Photo: San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti, a congressional candidate, was censured by the board last week. (FILE PHOTO)
San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti lost a bid last week to abolish the county’s code of ethics. By a remarkable coincidence, Patti is accused of violating the code of ethics.
Found guilty of numerous violations, censured by the board, including his allies, and accused of more violations, Patti concluded there is a real problem … with the code of ethics.
“The ethics code should not concern itself with professional conduct or courtesy,” he actually said.
Most of the allegations against Patti – that for a year he bullied Supervisor Kathy Miller’s chief of staff, Camille Zapata, slamming doors in her face, branding her a liar in public meetings, threatening her job – were “sustained,” or found true, by an ad hoc committee.
Patti rejected the findings. He followed the old adage: When innocent, attack the evidence. When guilty, attack the process. And attack poor Zapata, against whom he retaliated by filing his own allegations.
“The present system deprives county supervisors of basic constitutional rights,” said Patti. The supervisor repeatedly complained he was never given a chance to say his side.
A board majority didn’t buy it. Not the least reason being that it was patently false, and Patti was lying in front of the very people who knew better.
Board Chair Chuck Winn: “It is not true you were never given the opportunity to be interviewed. You were given the opportunity and you declined.”
Patti, backpedaling: Giving the interview “was not my top-tier concern.”
County Counsel Mark Myles: “I personally gave you the information. And that was before you were scheduled to be interviewed.”
Patti: “I don’t recall getting anything from you about it. I get hundreds of emails.”
Ahem. Myles said he personally gave Patti the information. And urged him to cooperate. Patti blew it off. Then when held responsible he played the victim.
As for Patti invoking the U.S. Constitution, beefing that he was never given the right to confront his accuser, or to “cross-examine witnesses” – he even had his attorney tell the board the same thing – he conveniently ignored the distinction between judicial proceeding and administrative process.
An employee’s complaint of a hostile work environment, investigated by outside counsel and adjudicated by an ad hoc committee, is not a matter for the courts. It is administrative.
Besides, a man sitting atop the county hierarchy accused of bullying a 20something female underling cannot have the right to “cross-examine” her. Or other county employees. No HR department would allow it.
Not only because of the inherent imbalance of power. Imagine a woman complains her boss is sexually harassing her. Giving him the right to “cross examine” her could victimize her further.
The truth is that Patti is running for congress against Democrat Josh Harder, in Congressional District 9. He was desperate to conceal what a jerk he’d been so he won’t lose votes.
Patti alleged that the timing (the November 8 election nears; mail-in ballots are going out) proves it was all political. “So, supervisor Miller can have her day of the ‘Gotcha, Tom,’” he complained.
He’s right. It is all political — to Tom Patti. Patti was also correct when he said the ethics complaint process has been “weaponized.” It has been — by Tom Patti.
He, alone among supes, has filed numerous petty complaints against board enemies. All were investigated, costing tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars; all were “unsustained,” a.k.a. baloney.
My favorite: Patti claimed he is afraid to use the same parking garage as Zapata. Patti was a boxer. He sparred with Mike Tyson.
As for the election timing, Winn reminded Patti that he and his attorney requested a 60-day postponement and were granted 45 days.
“If we’d have been able to do that (process earlier) we’d have been over this two months ago,” Winn said.
Another reason not to kill or delay the ethics system is optics. How would it look if the board swept Patti’s ethical violations under the rug until after the election?
Supervisor Miller: “I believe suspension at this point would be seen by the public as an attempt by this board to favor a sitting supervisor, to provide political cover, and place our finger on the scale of what is predicted to be a close race in November.”
Yet another reason: numerous county employees are midway through the process, having lodged misconduct allegations against superiors or others. Monkey-wrenching their due process would be wildly unfair and probably lead to lawsuits.
Patti appeared not to care.
I’ll go this far with Patti: no code of ethics should over-regulate common courtesy. Complaints of mere discourtesy should be dismissed.
Supervisor Robert Rickman also expressed valid reservations about stifling free speech. But creating a hostile work environment against an underling is not primarily a First Amendment issue. It is a violation of federal labor law.
Time and again Patti was caught saying untruths. Yet he refused to take the slightest responsibility. He was so wrapped up in saving political face he seemed blind to honesty, board comity, fairness to county employees, or public perception of the board. To him, it’s all a boxing slugfest, only he ignores the referee.
He stalked out of the meeting before the board voted to censure him. The remainder of the meeting was civil. It was as if the room breathed a sigh of relief.
“This is a kind of a cordial meeting,” Winn said. “I kind of enjoy the atmosphere. What can I say?”
Michael Fitzgerald’s column regularly runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.